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County works to meet federal floodplain guidelines

Updated: 
July 7, 2017 - 12:05am

HILO — Residents planning to build in flood-prone areas will be required to take an additional step to get an exemption, under a bill advanced Thursday by a County Council committee.

The council Committee on Public Works and Parks and Recreation voted 7-0 to advance the bill to the first of two required readings by the council.

The bill requires those intending to use exemptions to the floodplain code provide written notice of the size, type, and location of the proposed structure or development to the appropriate county agency. The county will then have 30 days to certify the plan.

“The beauty of this is for them to come and check with us,” Deputy Public Works Director Allan Simeon told the committee.

He said the county will keep a database of those who don’t require permits, making it easier to track when property with unpermitted improvements changes hands.

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, a consultant who works with clients on development issues, questioned what the new regulations will mean for construction permits. Still, she said, if the law requires the changes, then that’s what the council will do.

“We don’t want to lose any type of funding that may happen if we don’t adopt it,” she said.

Most of the changes are minor, Simeon said.

The amendments to county building and floodplain management codes in Bill 50 reflect changes in state law signed Monday by Gov. David Ige. The state has been warned by federal authorities that it would lose federally backed flood insurance and federal disaster assistance if it did not tighten its laws by Sept. 29.

“For many of our residents their homes are the biggest single investment they own. Hawaii homeowners can trust that their federal flood insurance will remain in place to protect them from future flood disasters,” Ryan Yamane, an Oahu Democrat who shepherded the bill through the state Legislature, said in a statement.

Yamane worked with the four counties, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hawaii Farm Bureau, Hawaii Association of Realtors and Hawaii’s insurers, banks, and builders, to restore Hawaii’s eligibility in the program.

In the last 35 years that Hawaii has been participating in the program, FEMA paid out 4,600 claims totaling over $87 million. Currently, there are over 60,000 flood insurance policies totaling over $13.4 billion throughout the state, which would have been canceled without the bill.

There are 4,348 insurance policies on Hawaii Island totaling just more than $1 billion. FEMA has paid $18.2 million as of march 31, according to information provided by Simeon.

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